You know that social-media department you just built? Go and dismantle it right now, because this stuff is too important to be left to the experts.
Every time an apparently foreign object is identified in adland, it seems the inhabitants split, roughly speaking, into two parties -- those who fear the foreign body and those who are excited by it. The excited annex the object and create their own nation around it. The fearful homelanders breathe a sigh of relief and go back to doing whatever it was they were doing -- albeit with just a few nagging fears about the ambitions of the fledgling country being built next door.
Before digital media it was media planning; before media, it was direct marketing. And if we want to go back through the history books, we can see that the same happened with TV and even radio. On each occasion, the newbies create their own jargon, their own law-making associations, their own cultures, their own ways of measuring success.
There are, of course, good reasons for separating new and old. There is money to be made for the prospectors and existing business to be defended. By dedicating resources and attention to the new medium, discipline or, in social media's case, idea, those who work in the field are able to quickly advance it and ensure that it prospers.
The problem, however, is that the new and old states cannot exist successfully without the other, a fact they realize after they have set up separate and often competitive fiefdoms that barely speak the same language.
Direct marketing splintered off, taking important data-driven processes and analytics expertise with it. Yet now, it wrestles with how to reintegrate the creative, emotional thinking it left behind. Media planning's separation from ad shops erected a wall between the thinking about medium and the thinking about message, which many are still trying to break down today. The rush to online as entirely separate from offline led to mainstream ad shops without the talent needed for today's digital world and a host of new digital shops that had great tools and talent but were quickly frustrated by only getting to work on one part of the integrated effort.
It's happening again with social media. Marketers are constructing social-media departments, social-media agencies are popping up everywhere, there are already too many social-media associations to make sense, and there's an ever-expanding list of social-media measurements and measurement tools. In the last few months, we've heard dozens of marketers identify themselves as "wanting" or "doing" a social-media campaign.
This will prove to be the wrong approach -- again. Social media isn't a box to be ticked or a department to be manned or even a campaign to be launched. It's about thinking differently about marketing, customer service, the entire company. It's about realizing that consumers are running the biggest recommendation service in the world and that, as has been tiresomely often repeated, they define the brand (no, this is not new; yes, this is becoming more obvious and important by the day). All thinking about product, customers and communications, needs to take this into account -- it cannot sit in a silo.
Sure, there are a bunch of new two-way communications tools at marketers' disposal, and they're all going to have to learn when to use them and in which combinations. And yes, there are definitely important roles for experts to offer guidance on this. But the social-media experts need to live among the experts in all the other marketing tools rather than in a new nation that adland will spend the next 20 years trying to reintegrate.